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The Enigma Machine

The Enigma machine, invented by Arthur Scherbius in 1918, is an electromechanical rotor-based cipher machine that was initially produced for the commercial market. While its predecessor was not very successful, the later lamp-based model known today was used by Germany during the Second World War to encrypt its communications.

It has become the most well known cipher machine due to the recent publicity surrounding the work of Allied codebreakers during the Second World War.

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Photos of Enigmas in Use

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Photographs of Enigma machines in use are very rare. During the war, it was strictly forbidden to take any photographs of the Enigma and other cipher equipment. However, there were some people who did take some photographs -- and this is a collection of some of their photographs. Valuable information can be gained from these images, such as the number of personnel that operated the machine, and how the machine and associated equipment were set up. For instance, the lid of the Enigma in this image is propped up by an Enigma machine battery, with one man operating the machine, two writing down the cipher-text, and another observing. This image is part of a pair of images of Luftwaffe personnel in white uniforms operating an Enigma machine. According to their inscriptions verso, these two photographs were taken in 1941 in the town of Querum in Braunschweig, Germany. The uniforms are white denim Luftwaffe "Drillich" uniforms, typically used for work details, weapons cleaning and drill practise. This detail suggests that the photographs very likely depict communications training. An important point of note is that in all of the photographs, the steckerbrett (plugboard) is not visible to the viewer. At the very least, with the sensitivity of this cipher equipment, the plugboard was obscured from view. The rarest of the photographs is the photograph of an Enigma machine operated by Waffen SS personnel (image 2 in the gallery) as no other photographs of Enigma machines in use by the SS exist. Since most were personal photographs, most photographs of Enigmas that exist are small-format photographs. There are also a few, large-format propaganda-type photographs that include the Enigma, but generally the Enigma was regarded as sensitive equipment and therefore not photographed.

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